Cornerstone family

EDITOR’S NOTE: Once again, I find myself writing a eulogy for a departed coworker’s career. That’s on me; I knew Lin’s retirement was coming soon, but it wasn’t until a chaotic week of family illness that I got word Jan. 31 would be her final day. Fortunately, she was willing to chat with me as the hours on her last day of employment dwindled, and I feel it’s imperative to pay tribute to a therapist who did much for many. Because, as we all know, once you’re part of the Cornerstone family, you always will be.

When she first started at Cornerstone of Recovery as an intern in August 2007, Lin Rankin had already gleaned enough experience to satisfy several lifetimes.

Lin RankinAfter obtaining her doctorate in philosophy, with a concentration in clinical ethics, she worked as an educator at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. She also did some chaplaincy work, eventually moving over to the ethics side of the field as the hospital’s clinical ethicist.

Her interest in Native spirituality, however, led to a deepening concern with addiction and alcoholism rates among the tribes of the Plains, and after a conversation with a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work, she went back to school at 59 years old.

“I went back to get my master’s, because I wanted to look into helping people with addiction issues,” Rankin said on Friday, Jan. 31, the day she officially retired from Cornerstone of Recovery. “It was a nice way to change what I was doing, and get back into working with people, only this time, I was the healthcare provider.”

An internship with Cornerstone allowed her to get front-line experience working with addicts and alcoholics, and at first, she thought the drug and alcohol treatment facility would be a place to gather experience in the field before heading West to work on reservations. But as she bade her time working on her licensure, she began to see that her calling would keep her in East Tennessee.

“I wanted to help people look at issues and problems from a very spiritual perspective,” she said. “I was on a very intense spiritual journey, and that allowed me to help using my spiritual development and from a spiritual dimension. I realized I had something to offer coming from a slightly different cultural perspective, and I realized that’s where my growth had happened.

“The patients had all sorts of other things going on, and they’re really, truly good people who got caught in bad places. It’s been a rich, rewarding experience to let people trust me with their pain and their experiences, because I can help them look at it in different ways and help them heal from it.”

Lin Rankin: A journey of the spirit

Lin Rankin

Lin Rankin (right) talks with Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs (left) and Cornerstone IOP counselor Sean Doesburg at the facility's 30th anniversary celebration in September 2019.

Her own spiritual journey, she said, has been her rock: As her own path became more defined, she was able to make peace with her own past, thus allowing her to be present for those who needed a steady hand to guide them back toward the light. After being hired as a full-time therapist in Cornerstone’s Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in 2008, she began working toward credentials that strengthened her educational foundation. From becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) to earning her stripes as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LADAC) to obtaining a Master’s in Addiction Counseling (MAC), Rankin has always been associated with the IOP program, although her role has been fluid over the years.

“For a long time, I was just a therapist with the credentials; right now, I guess I’m just called an IOP therapist, but I went from being an adjunct to the treatment team to running the treatment team,” she said. “But this is what I’ve always done. I’ve always been a therapist.”

She’s also worked closely with the Professionals Program IOP groups, a role in which her previous training as a clinical ethicist helped her forge close connections with medical professionals and others who transition from Residential Inpatient into Cornerstone’s Aftercare programs.

“When I was first full time (at UTMC) after I graduated with a PhD in 1993, I was all over the hospital,” she said. “I’ve been on Lifestar (helicopter, UTMC’s aeromedical transport), I’ve watched people code, I’ve been on trauma and critical care cases, I’ve scrubbed in and gone into the ER. I’ve been up close and personal with stressors in the medical field, and I understood, as much as you can without being a nurse or a doctor, what that’s like. Now, I’ve been able to turn around to help those who have had a lot of experiences in medicine, and I really enjoy that.”

One of the first ethical issues posed to her as a clinical ethicist, she added, was how to handle the case of a nurse who used drugs. She finds it interesting, she added, that it became a portent to her later-in-life career.

“It’s always a diversity of issues, and it’s never, ever uninteresting,” she said. “It’s sad, and a lot of it is tragic, but I was here helping them do something positive.”

Lin Rankin: Leaving Cornerstone a better place

And that, she added, has been her calling: To help others channel pain into experience, and to use that experience to establish peace in their own lives, and perhaps pay it forward in their own communities. She doesn’t always see the results, but even in that, there’s something cosmic, in a sense, about seeing them off on their journeys.

“It’s a go-with-God kind of thing,” she said. “I get to be a significant part of their life in a very narrow way, and then they’re gone. In that sense, I’ve learned to keep people’s secrets and forget them, actually. But the patients, they’re amazing. It’s that simple, and I’ll miss them. What really just amazes me are the people that come to my office, and the stories they tell, and the work they have to do.”

And while one of the big reasons for her retirement is the fact that the work started keeping her up at nights, that concern was never about the patients. It was always the workload, she said, and eventually, it grew wearisome.

“This job is really demanding, and there’s always so much to do,” she said. “I’m grateful I’ve not been awake worried about patients. That’s what has not happened.”

She plans on reopening the small private practice she once kept but had to close down as her Cornerstone responsibilities grew. She’s also getting a rescue puppy — “half Texas heeler, half dog-next-door,” she said — and she’s enthusiastic about a new therapeutic process called Internal Family Systems that examines the dimensions of self, their relationships with a Higher Power and how they play out in family and community dynamics. It’s something she would like to parlay into a teaching role … perhaps even to her coworkers at Cornerstone.

Because, as anyone who’s spent time under the company’s umbrella, once you’re a part of Cornerstone, you’ll always be considered family. In that regard, while Rankin may be retiring, the legacy she leaves behind lives on — in the patients she’s helped, and the work that continues.

“I leave here with a lot of gratitude for the people who let me work with them,” she said. “My life is worthwhile if I get to help people.”

Five questions …

I ask five questions, with no premeditation or forethought put into what they’ll be. Lin answers in the same manner.

QUESTION: What’s the first animal you ever rescued? ANSWER: “A black lab mix named Jenny.”

Q: If you could travel anywhere, where would it be? A: “The Black Hills of South Dakota. The Plains Indians say it’s the heartbeat of Mother Earth. I’ve been to the Badlands, but I’ve never been there.”

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time? A: “That really depends. Sometimes, it’s reading. I’ve been involved with dogs; I’m a big dog person. I’m not much for entertainment type of stuff. Oh, and I have been gardening for a long time.”

Q: What’s the most difficult vegetable to grow? A: “If you don’t have a fence, any of them are difficult to grow, because of the deer. I didn’t have good luck last year with sweet peppers, but then again, I was really busy last year as well.”

Q: What’s your favorite comfort dish? A: “Probably some kind of takeout Chinese food — Szechuan. And if I’m going to do food you shouldn’t it, popcorn! I can’t do it very often, but every once in a while, I enjoy it.”